I once had a job where electronic communications rolled in around the clock, and I developed major email anxiety as a result. In fact, constant communication is such a problem that, according to Apartment Therapy, a proposed New York City bill would make unplugging from your job after hours a right instead of pipe dream. Finally! The bill, proposed by Brooklyn, N.Y. City Council member Rafael L. Espinal, Jr., would make it "illegal for employers [in New York City] with more than 10 employees to require employees to access work-related electronic communications, such as emails, text messages, and instant messenger services, outside of normal work hours," the SheppardMullin Labor & Employment Law blog reported.
While genius, this is not a new idea. There's already a law in France that bans electronic communications to employees after 6 p.m. for companies with more than 50 employees. While technology has brought us a lot of great things, one major downside is the expectation that you should be available to your boss and co-workers 24/7. "Employees physically leave the office, but they do not leave their work. They remain attached by a kind of electronic leash — like a dog," French legislator Benoit Hamon told the BBC. "The texts, the messages, the emails — they colonize the life of the individual to the point where he or she eventually breaks down."
Though the proposed legislation would only apply in the city of New York, and not to all employees, if the bill passes in New York City it could pave the way for other cities and states to adopt it as well.
"The bill would require employers to adopt written policies regarding the use of electronic devices for sending or receiving work-related electronic communications. Such written policies must include: the usual work hours for each class of employee; and the categories of paid time off (e.g., vacation days, personal days, etc.) to which employees are entitled," the Labor & Employment Law blog explained. "The bill would also require that employers provide employees with a notice of their right to disconnect from work-related electronic communications outside of normal work hours." Certain professions like law enforcement, doctors, and first responders would likely be exempt from the rule.
If you're a younger millennial, you might not know that it wasn't always like this. Before smartphones took over our lives, leaving work usually meant leaving work. But not anymore. "In 2002 just 8 percent of employees checked email before arriving at the office. Today, 50 percent deal with email before even getting out of bed," Laura Marsh wrote for Dissent magazine. Basically this means that if you're awake, you're working. The bill would enforce penalties for employers who ignore the law, including: a "$50 fine for each employee who does not receive proper notice of their right to disconnect; a $250 fine for each instance of requiring an employee to check electronic communications after work hours; and fines ranging between $500 and $2,500 for retaliating against employees for asserting their rights under the bill," the Labor & Employment Law blog noted.
While those fines might seem hefty, the benefit to employees is invaluable. These days, I have an automatic reply set up for my email that let's people know when I will be working and when I will respond to their message. This helps cut down on the eleventy-million-followup emails people tend to send when they don't get a reply right away. And, it's gone a long way toward improving my quality of life.
What's more, an article published on the World Economic Forum's blog pointed to studies that suggest that all of this constant connection is actually making us less productive. Because, common sense tells us that the best way to get something done is to eliminate distractions, which can feel impossible when all of your apps are dinging every three seconds.
"Consider the situation 30 years ago. If a manager was away from their desk, they’d get a note saying they missed a call — perhaps 1,000 a year. This then become a voicemail — perhaps 4,000 a year. Now, with the vast array of communication possibilities (email, Skype, instant messengers, phone) this has expanded to 30,000 communications," Joe Myers wrote for We Forum. "Assuming a 47-hour working week, a typical supervisor or mid-level manager was estimated to have less than seven hours a week of uninterrupted work time."
So, while it might feel like you're spending all of your life working, you're actually wasting most of that time responding to people on myriad messaging platforms about things that aren't emergencies — or that they could have figured out on their own if they had just done a little research — versus actually getting any real work done. This is exactly why the U.S. needs an after-hours communication ban. Hats off to Espinal for proposing one in New York City.